The first major challenge faced by any person when setting out to become a better archer is physical strength, especially if a conventional bow is going to be used. It will be difficult for any beginner to draw even a forty pound bow, to hold it “anchored” for very long, or to control the release for maximum accuracy.
In the ancient past, specialized strength training for aspiring archers was limited to the use of the bow itself and to constant practice. Certainly, history proves that this was more than adequate for quite a long time. Typically, however, modern day life with all of its attribute labor saving devices does not produce rugged physiques and rock-hard muscles.
Fortunately, modern people have to their advantage a better understanding of the physiology behind being a good (or great) archer, and have some idea of the physical training that can be done to gain the strength that is needed in the shortest period of time with minimal risk of injury. So, in addition to taking up the bow, becoming a better archer also means hitting the weight room.
The muscles employed in holding the bow in position as the arrow is drawn are the triceps of the upper arm, the deltoid of the shoulder and the latissimus dorsi of the upper-back. Most of the force that goes into drawing the bow with the opposite arm comes from the rhomboids and the trapezius minor. The biceps do contribute quite a bit to the initial part of the draw, and if an archer is planning to use a conventional bow rather than a compound bow, then the biceps do require strengthening.
The best exercises to strengthen the bow-side arm, the one that holds the bow, are lateral pull-downs, lateral arm raises, and push-ups. It is not advised to do these with just one arm, of course. Maximum results are always attained with a balanced, symmetrical workout. Do three sets of each. The weight and number of repetitions in each set should be determined by what amount causes that last two or three reps to be quite difficult. Strength training sessions should be done ten times every four weeks. That means that in the first week, there are three strength training sessions, and likewise in the third week. In the second week there should only be two strength training sessions, and likewise in the fourth. It is important to remember how critical rest is to successfully building muscle strength. Technically, muscle tissue weakens during a work-out. The “work” the muscle cells do on the cellular level that actually leads to greater strength happens during periods of rest.
The best exercises to strengthen the drawing arm, the one that pulls back on the arrow, are bent-over rows, reverse butterflies, and standing arm curls. Again, the exact training routine should be symmetrical, and should incorporate adequate periods of rest to allow for muscle tissue recovery.
In addition to just being able to pull back on the bow, a considerable amount of muscle tone is required to control the release of the arrow with any accuracy. Most of this comes from the muscles of the forearms. These muscles need to be developed especially if a mechanical grip is not going to be used.
For the most part, the exercises mentioned above will also contribute to forearm strength. However additional training that focuses on the grip alone should be included in an archer’s training regimen. The trick is not to add additional exercises just for the sake of the forearm, but to modify existing exercises to strengthen the grip. The first set of each exercise should be modified so that the weights are held in a pinch grip between the thumb and the four fingers. For example, the first set of bent-over rows should not be done with a dumbbell. A stack of disks should be pinched between fingers and thumb as the reps are carried out.
Finally, anyone training to be a better archer must not neglect cardiovascular training. Archery requires exertion. This leads to increased breathing, and uncontrolled breathing can detract from accuracy while trying to aim.
The kind of cardio training required for archery does not necessarily include signing up for a five kilometer running race. Twenty minutes of moderately intense exercise on a stationary bike three times a week should suffice.
This training regimen can be done in conjunction with regular archery practice, and is should be modified to fit with regular practice sessions. The main thing to keep in mind is to make sure that enough rest is allowed after each weight training session before the muscles are significantly stressed again.
Results will most likely become noticeable within eight weeks. For those who are serious about becoming better archers, and enhancing their skills with weight training, the fruits of extra effort in the gym will be rock-steady control of the bow and arrow, and a wicked aim.